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Could taxing empty homes help housing affordability?

clock icon July 24, 2017

While hundreds of thousands of people struggle to save a deposit for a house they may never be able to afford, the 2016 census revealed the number of houses with no-one living in them has grown by more than 200,000 in the past decade.

The new figures have been described as “cruel and immoral” by leading UNSW urban policy expert Hal Pawson, who has warned the government must act to stem the growth in unoccupied housing.

“There is gross under-occupation across Australia,” Mr Pawson said, adding that there were up to a million homes with three or more extra bedrooms than the owner required.

“There is a growing realisation that our housing market is not working well. It doesn’t just create a problem for people on low incomes, it also hurts spending in the economy when housing is overvalued.”

The 2016 census showed empty property numbers up by 19 per cent in Melbourne and 15 per cent in Sydney over the past five years alone.

Treasurer Scott Morrison introduced measures in the May budget to hit foreign buyers with thousands of dollars in fees for leaving their investment property vacant, while also encouraging older Australians to downsize by allowing people aged over 65 to contribute $300,000 from the sale of their homes into their tax-free superannuation.

This could also take some pressure off Sydney’s tenants, who have experienced rents jump to more than $500 a week for houses and apartments in the first quarter of 2017, according to the latest Domain Group data.

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